Org Prep Daily

March 10, 2008

Nitroacetic acid

Filed under: procedures — milkshake @ 1:53 pm


90% KOH solid 265 g (4.25 mol, flakes) was loaded into a 1-L sized three-necked flask with a large egg-shaped stirbar. Water 180mL was added in one portion and the mixture was stirred without cooling. The flask was equipped with internal thermometer, an efficient reflux condenser and a side-arm septa. When the resulting hot KOH solution temperature decreased to about 100C, neat nitromethane 90 g (80 mL, 1.475 mol) was gradually added by syringe through the side arm, with a vigorous stirring. A strongly exothermic reaction commenced, accompanied with ammonia gas evolution, foaming and precipitate formation. The temperature and gas evolution was controlled by the nitromethane addition rate so that the internal temperature remained between 120 and 140C. This addition took about 30 min. [Note 1] The mixture was stirred then for additional 20 min, the  flask was then placed on a 130 C oil bath and stirred at this temperature for 1 hour with a gentle stream of Ar introduced into the flask through the side arm (the septa was replaced with a gas inlet adapter  [Note 2]). The resulting light-colored slurry was cooled and stirred at RT for about 30 min. The flask was then placed into a refrigerator overnight. The precipitated bis-potassium salt of nitroacetic acid was collected by filtration on a large (350mL, medium porosity) glass Buchner funnel, the wet cake was compressed on the frit. The reaction flask and the filter cake were thoroughly rinsed with fridge-chilled methanol , 6x20mL. The solid was then dried by suction. [Note 3]

The obtained bis-potassium salt (84.4g of a cream-colored crystalline solid, 63% th) was gradually added as a solid into a freezer pre-cooled (-20C) stirred mixture of 85% H3PO4 400g with water 300mL and ethyl acetate 500 mL in a 2L Erlenmeyer flask. The mixture was then placed on a ice/water slush bath and stirred at 0C until all solids have dissolved (about 20 min). The phases were separated, the organic layer was washed with chilled sat NaCl 500 mL , the aqueous phases were re-extracted with additional chilled EtOAc 500 mL. The combined organic extracts were dried with MgSO4, filtered and evaporated from a 17-22C bath, to near dryness. [Note 4] The obtained crystalline residue was covered with ethyl acetate 10 mL, the slurry was diluted with chloroform 250mL and allowed to crystallise for 20 min. The precipitate was collected by filtration, washed with chloroform, dried by suction and then on highvac (30 min). Concentrating the supernatant and covering the residue with 10mL of 1:1 ethyl acetate + chloroform mixture and then diluting the slurry with chloroform 80mL provided a second crop of the pure product. 

The combined yield was 44.85 g of a sugar-like white crystalline solid (Y=58% overall).
1H(CD3CN, 400MHz): 9.578 (very br s, 1H), 5.295 (s, 2H); 13C(CDCl3, 100MHz): 164.34, 77.51

Note 1: The nitromethane adition is promptly exothermic but the ammonia evolution and precipitate formation is slightly delayed. This can cause a foam-over accident if the nitromethane is added too rapidly below the optimal temperature. Above 120C the mixture is easier to stir and the foaming is suppressed but an efficient condenser is needed to keep nitromethane from being carried away by the evolving NH3 gas.

Basic impurities sensitise nitromethane - the used nitromethane should be transferred into a temporary storage flask and drawn from there so that the main bottle is not accidentally contaminated with alkali. If the addition funnel is employed, the funnel should be kept under positive pressure of Ar to keep NH3 from entering the funnel.

Note 2: Argon is passed through the flask sidearm to drive out the remaining ammonia. This is not essential but it seems to produce a lighter-colored reaction mix. Due to some evaporation the internal temperature of the mix holds at around 120C when the mix is stirred on a 130C bath.

Note 3: There are contradicting reports about the shock sensitivity of this bis-potassium salt. To stay on the safe side I tried to avoid grinding and pounding the material too vigorously. After the bis-K-salt washing with methanol, it became non-hygroscopic and the compressed cake could be fluffed up with a spatula on the Buchner funnel, to aid the drying by suction and to keep the cake from turning into a brick. Some residual MeOH is no problem in the next neutralisation step.

Note 4: The mono salt is extremely unstable. The acid is reasonably stable as a solid but it decarboxylates slowly at RT in solution, especially in the presence of water. The solutions were kept below +10C during the extraction workup. (The drying with MgSO4 and the evaporation can be done at ambient temperature, without a delay). The used chloroform was an ACS grade stabilised with amylene, free of ethanol and acidic impurities. Nitroacetic acid is stored in a fridge.


  1. Gulp. ‘Nads of steel, ‘nads of steel.

    Comment by Jose — March 11, 2008 @ 4:22 pm

  2. I don’t think this is too ballsy – nitromethane is shiped in tanker trucks and railway cars in ton quantities; pure nitromethane is hard to detonate even with a strong blasting cap unless you add something to it – but you dont want to contaminate it unnecessarily with a base. The bis-potassium salt has been made many times on scale over the years, there is even the OrgSyn procedure, Vol 55 page 77 (which I slightly modified) and the only reported incident was the controversial one in Chem Eng News (1949) which occured with a material that was prepared by alternate route. I suppose if you have kilos of crude bis-K salt with KOH + MeNO2 in it – that was not washed and has dried into a brick-like block, you shouldn’t try to break it with a hammer and chizzle. But on my scale (1L glassware, 85g of salt) the salt washed clean with MeOH and it was a quite manageable and enjoyable procedure. I run the preparation three times with small variations, and on the last two runs the overal yield was the same. (On the first run the yield and purity was worse because I partly decomposed the product during the acidification – by adding H3PO4 to the bis-K salt rather than the other way around).

    Comment by milkshake — March 11, 2008 @ 5:44 pm

  3. Do you mean to react NO2CH2 anion with CO2 or (NH4)2CO3 or what?

    Comment by sangdy — March 12, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

  4. No, it is a dimerization reaction. One molecule of nitromethane works as the CO2 equivalent, ammonia is generated in the process. Don’t ask me how.

    Comment by milkshake — March 12, 2008 @ 8:40 pm

  5. These last couple preps should end up on a cume somewhere! Very cool!

    Comment by synthon — March 12, 2008 @ 9:19 pm

  6. You might like this guy:

    Comment by Wavefunction — March 13, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  7. Hey milkshake.. Got a question I posted on the the curly arrow that hasn’t gotten much of a response.. What type of balloons do you use for hydrogenations? My school is to poor to get the fancy aldrich balloons, so all I have is the party balloons I get from cvs down the street. They work well for Ar and N2 but I am guessing atomic radii of the H2 atoms is too small.. and it diffuses out quickly. I leave and I end up getting empty balloons in like 10 mins. Anyway I can rig up some sort of system for cheap?

    Comment by Tom — March 16, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  8. have you tried folding up one balloon and putting it inside the other? i routinely double up my balloons and i don’t remember any significant trouble with hydrogenations. certainly not emptying after 10 min.

    Comment by squirmy — March 16, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

  9. Tom, I already did answer your question there at Curly Arrow last night. So get Aldrich 11 inch baloons, they are very cheap regardless what your boss tells you. Double them. Then use a jointed adapter for hydrogenation, preferably the one that has a 3-way stopcock such as the Chemglass adapter AF-0509-11. Some people would just stick a H2 baloon with a needle through a septa – but this system is poorly suited for hydrogenation precisely because hydrogen leaks out so easily.

    Comment by milkshake — March 16, 2008 @ 9:07 pm

  10. Leaking or not, it still works…

    Comment by Ψ*Ψ — March 16, 2008 @ 11:18 pm

  11. I know nitromethane dimerizes to methazoic acid (O2N-CH2-CH=NOH) at RT in presence of KOH. However,at higher temp as in your prep and with XS KOH, it is likely methazoic acid dehydrates to nitroacetonitrile which then undergoes basic hydrolysis to nitroacetic acid via nitroacetamide.

    O2N-CH2-CH=NOH ->O2N-CH2-CN -> O2N-CH2-CONH2 -> O2N-CH2-CO2K (+ NH3)

    This is just a guess :)

    Comment by moody blue — March 17, 2008 @ 10:09 pm

  12. Quick question on the mechanism, although the subject is slightly out of date…As it looks like nitromethane decomposes to ammonia, water and K2CO3 in the presence of KOH, I think it’s reasonable to say the remaining nitromethane can trap this CO2. What do you think?

    Comment by PAF — April 11, 2013 @ 9:13 am

    • I think the previous suggestion @comment 11 that the intermediate is dimer (methazoate) is far more likely but I did not study the mechanism

      Comment by milkshake — April 11, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

  13. you made my day!
    I’ve made nitroacetic acid with tartaric acid but with poor yields. So I’ve looked for different reagents and I found this page! What should I say? I’ve just started my thesis lab and, with this procedure, I made my relator happy :)

    Comment by Chemist89 — March 1, 2014 @ 5:06 pm

    • I am glad it worked. For what reactions are you using nitroacetic acid? As a synthetic equivalent of nitromethane, I think nitroacetic acid has some potential for diastereoselctive imine addition because the H bond from carboxyl to the imine C=NR arranges the transition state into a cycle… I think N-sulfinyl imines derived from Ellman’s optically pure tBuSONH2 would be worth trying.

      Comment by milkshake — March 3, 2014 @ 10:48 am

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